The statements made by Benedict XVI, Pope of the Catholic Church in Rome, during his visit to Lebanon and as part of the major speech he delivered in the Presidential Palace in Beirut, have aroused amazement, wonder and even shock. The man gave an obscure speech, far removed from any realistic meanings or links to the events taking place only a short distance from his podium, or references to the wider region full of developments and a world engulfed in change.
A man is judged by his stances, and stances require that opportunities must be seized. Pope Benedict XVI had come to Lebanon, a country that has suffered flagrant atrocities primarily due to the al-Assad regime in Syria, a situation his predecessor the late Pope John Paul II was well aware of. Yet, Pope Benedict XVI opted not to draw attention to the magnitude of the catastrophe in Syria or the massive bloodshed caused by a reckless, blood-thirsty, aggressive and vengeful regime that does not hesitate to use aircraft, tanks and missiles against its own people. He opted only to issue a statement demanding that the world stop exporting arms to Syria; a vague statement that does not befit a man who represents the Christians of the world, or at least the majority of them.
The man also failed to touch explicitly or overtly upon the defamatory film about the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), which insulted all Muslims and caused giant waves of anger in different parts of the world. Pope Benedict XVI missed out on the opportunity to be a man and handle the situation in a manner befitting a spiritual leader. Let me say once again that ever since he first assumed the most senior Christian post, Pope Benedict XVI has sent out negative signals that play no constructive role in building bridges of communication between different religions and cultures. Pope Benedict XVI’s rise in stature has also coincided with the peaceful, calm but mysterious coup in Bkerke, the headquarters of the Maronite Catholic Patriarchate in Lebanon, which is affiliated to the Catholic Church in Rome. This coup resulted in Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi replacing Nasrallah Sfeir.
Bechara al-Rahi came with a political discourse championing the al-Assad regime, warning that the region would fall into an ocean of extremism and radicalism if Bashar al-Assad was overthrown. Such a stance was completely contrary to that of Sfeir, yet it was consistent with the political discourse of several political Maronites in Lebanon who are staunch advocates of al-Assad, represented by Michel Aoun and Suleiman Frangieh. Michel Aoun is known for his changeable political stances and his “principles” that fluctuate as often as he changes his shirts. This is the political price that he voluntarily decided to pay in order to rise to power and hold Lebanon’s presidency at one point, a dream that Aoun had cherished for so long. Hence he has always changed his stances and principles, as if he lives inside a Moulinex Blender.
Pope Benedict XVI’s behavior is unacceptable from a great spiritual leader who has come to visit a region going through a decisive period in its history, trying desperately to champion its people’s dignity and grant them the right to enjoy freedom and salvation from injustice and tyranny. Yet despite all this, and in view of the prevailing injustices committed by the al-Assad regime in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, Pope Benedict XVI does not dare to call things by their true names.
I also wonder about the deteriorating stances adopted by the Maronite Church in Lebanon. Having adopted positive stances against the French and Turkish colonialists, and also against the Baathist Nasserite threat, today the church is championing a regime that the entire world believes has lost its morality, let alone legitimacy.
Pope Benedict XVI needs to extensively consider the stances of his predecessor John Paul II and what he did to confront communism in Eastern Europe. He maintained a strong alliance with the West in a bid to overthrow the “evil empire”, grant the Eastern Europeans the right to practice their faith and doctrine, maintain their dignity, and eliminate the powers of darkness that had prevailed over them for decades.
The Syrian people deserve to be held in as high regard as the Polish, Hungarians, the Czechs, the Romanians and so on. Yet the weak and hesitant positions of some, the failure to give a true account of events and the attempts to cover up injustice will all lead to more killings and more bloodshed, and this is something that no religious figure can allow.
Pope Benedict XVI seemed cheerful and lively when he came to Lebanon, and yet he was indifferent to the wounded, saddened, tearful and grief-stricken neighbor [Syria]. Isn’t it true that caring for the rights of a neighbor is one of the Ten Commandments?